The autonomous province of Kosovo has proclaimed political independence. This event was expected a long time ago, but its consequences are still unclear. What international complications may be caused by this decision and its recognition by a part of the world community?
First, this creates a legal predicament. The absence of UN Security Council approval is taking this process outside the international legal field. Formally, the UN mission set up in line with 1999 Security Council Resolution 1244 governs the province. De facto, the UN is not performing this function, and real power will go to the Mission of the European Union (EU). The EU insists on its right to institute such a body, referring to this resolution, but its legitimacy is highly doubtful.
In any event, Kosovo’s independence is relevant. In practical terms, it will be a new type of international protectorate, and the local authorities will be quite limited in their actions. Potentially, Kosovo may enter into a conflict with its Western partners, but that is unlikely. Pristina knows that independence will not resolve any of its urgent problems, such as its economic crisis, high unemployment rate, and the ensuing criminalisation of society. If Belgrade exerts economic pressure on Pristina, the situation in Kosovo may become even worse. In the long term, Kosovo’s economy will fully depend on the EU, and international financial institutions will hardly be able to render assistance to a province with such a vague status.
Second, it is impossible to exclude the possibility of armed clashes. Neither Belgrade nor Pristina are interested in them, but there are enough radicals capable of provocations among both the Kosovars and the Serbs. Those Serbs that remain on Kosovo’s territory will be in an extremely difficult situation. The authorities of Kosovo and their Western partners are vitally interested in the well-being of the Serbian minority. Any incident may have disastrous moral consequences for the self-proclaimed province. It is not clear for how long the EU and NATO will bear the full responsibility for security in the province.
The event will have unpleasant repercussions in Bosnia and Macedonia. In the mid 1990s, when the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was set up in line with the Dayton Accords, its ethnic communities, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, were denied self-determination. The international patrons of Bosnian sovereignty compelled these three communities to unite into a single state. The new state was built on the non-ethnic principle. Kosovo’s independence rests on the ethnic principle that allows the Bosnian Serbs to demand self-determination and accession to Serbia. Bosnia’s redivision is fraught with gigantic problems for all of Europe. Macedonia is a country with a tangible Albanian minority that is rapidly growing. The Albanians have a higher birth rate than the Slavs. Although the idea of the Greater Albania is more in the nature of a political venture, the Albanians may view themselves as a divided ethnic community.
Third, the Kosovo case will create a precedent that will influence developments in other parts of Europe. Its influence is unlikely to be decisive in stable and prosperous EU countries with a separatist potential such as France, Belgium, Spain, and Britain. The Kosovo case may provide a catalyst, though not by itself (it is ridiculous to compare Flemish and Kosovar separatism), but, by again bringing up the problem of self-determination. Unstable countries like Bosnia, Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan will feel the impact of the Kosovo scenario. Their minorities will interpret it as a direct precedent.
Fourth, there is a general problem that is linked not only with Kosovo. International institutions are growing weaker, and stepping back from resolving urgent issues. The inability of the great powers to come to terms on the rules of conduct results in the degradation of almost all global organisations. International law is increasingly turning from the foundation of decision-making into an instrument for legalising what has already been decided.
18 February 2008
Editor, Russia in Global Affairs magazine